[CW: eating disorders, mental illness]
“but do you eat healthy?” is probably the second question every neurotypical (= anyone who doesn’t experience any mental health problems) asks you when you tell them about your mental illness(es). (the first one is, of course, “do you exercise??”). putting aside how classist and privileged this question is (hello, not everyone can afford or has access to healthy food!!), the issue is that, often, just the act of eating can be one of the tasks that are so difficult to do because of anxiety. at least in my case (because there is no universal way of experiencing mental illness), anxiety makes eating, excuse me now, fucking difficult.
one thing is that anxiety, and depression and lots of other illnesses too, come with a serious loss of appetite. how am i supposed to eat healthy when the idea of putting any kind of food literally repulses me? i could be hungry as hell, but just thinking of food would still make me all nauseous and vomit-y. sometimes, i really have to force myself to eat, even though i feel like i might puke out anything that just touches the tip of my tongue. and in those days, such advice about healthy eating makes me extremely angry. you do get why, i hope – i am literally ecstatic i’m managing to keep something in my stomach for a couple of hours and it really feels like a huge victory, and i certainly do not need anyone’s judgments on whether the said meal was “healthy” or not. if i can only eat instant noodles at the moment, i will fucking eat them for days at a stretch (hello 2016 me!). me eating trash food is still thousand times better than me not eating at all, and of course—excuse me, let’s not forget i suffer from anxiety and depression—i do blame myself for eating such shit, so your commentary is really not necessary.
yup, anxiety can make eating really difficult, but wait, there’s an extra fun part to it all – not eating makes your anxiety worse. so, basically, you cannot eat because of your anxiety, which only gets worse because you do not eat. what a situation! why would you want to engage in such behavior (= not eating) if you know it only makes your condition worse? and here’s the rub, according to my therapist, with whom i have talked about this issue a lot: intentionally withdrawing oneself access to food can be, in a sense, a (very bad) coping method. anxiety (and other mental illnesses) can make you feel extremely overwhelmed by everything that’s happening to and around you and gives you a sense of losing control over your own life. well, strictly moderating your food intake is indeed a way of regaining that control, and when i think of that, when i was younger and still struggled with a serious eating disorder, i didn’t get so much of the satisfaction high from the evident weight loss, but from the feeling of immense discipline of my own body and its functions. of course, this psychological control soon comes with the loss of control over the bodily reactions, but you don’t really think of that in the moment.
i guess what i want to say with this article is, simply, stop asking if mentally ill people eat “healthy” and rather ask if they eat at all. don’t judge anyone for indulging in food you find mediocre or shitty, because perhaps that’s the only food they can stomach at the moment. instead, do let your friends, lovers, family members, and everyone else around you who might deal with mental illness know that if they need, you’ll be there with their preferred choice of food without any judgment or healthy lifestyle lectures. check in if they’ve eaten something that day. take them out to their favorite restaurants if you can. be good and kind.
eating might seem like the most basic and easiest task, but it, unfortunately, often isn’t.